Marketing a digital project shouldn’t be an afterthought

If your promotional strategy is scheduled for launch week, it's already too late.
January 22, 2014

Op-ed By: Carrie Cutforth-Young

Carrie-Cutforth-YoungCreators sometimes get myopic: they have a story they want to tell, and they want to tell it well. Whether the content is a film, narrative series, or vlog, it becomes very hard to see the forest from the trees, especially when you are in the thick of it. And then as the project is near completion, it is high time to start thinking how you are about to market this sucker before final polish and spin, right? Right??

Many approach film fests and markets with a PR kit and reps a few paltry weeks in advance. However, audience development and buzz takes a lot of time to build. Rather than wait until the project is near completion, it would be wise to develop and launch your marketing alongside the creation of your work in order to build momentum in advance of release. A solid side-along marketing strategy can assist you to:

  • establish your intellectual property as part of your brand
  • develop an audience long before release
  • tweak and reiterate your project based on the analytics of your developing audiences’ behaviors, and present this data in support of advocating your project
  • cement relationships with key supporters well in advance of needing them
  • when done well, your nascent content releases can be seen by eyeballs (funders, broadcasters, and distributors) advantageous to the entire production: those that are more likely to grease the wheels of commerce in your favour

There are a few side benefits as well: attracting talent who are passionate about your property before you begin to develop your team, cast and crew will cut down a lot of unnecessary legwork.

Not a One Size Fits All Approach

For digital content, an oft recommended rule of thumb is a third of your budget overall should be devoted to marketing: whether it’s a hybrid of ads, social media, content marketing, and so on. However, much can be done on a savvy bootstrap budget as opposed to a throwing money at it approach. Marketing plans don’t actually need to be complicated. In fact, often it’s a matter of answering some really key questions that can be boiled down to two themes: understanding what you want to accomplish and understanding how your respective audience behaves.

One of the key questions creators often neglect to answer for themselves is: why am I doing this? Is it for prestige, accolades, monetary gain, or social good? Being honest with yourself around your own motivations will help you to refine your goals, and keep you from trying to bite off more than you can chew.

After you understand what you are trying to accomplish, you can begin to think how you can achieve these goals by feeling out who best to approach. If it is accolades you are after, seeking a broad audience instead of just flagging and lobbying key influencers might be a waste of your team’s time. Once you identify what your goals are, and what kinds of advance audiences you might need to reach out to, then the hard work really begins: finding where your audience lives, who are their key influences, how they consume content, share it and where, and most importantly: what’s in it for them. There is little point to investing marketing dollars in building a Facebook fan page if your audience is of a current generation thumbing their nose to the platform.

Content as Marketing

It’s best to be on a few key platforms, or target spending wisely, than try to be all things to all people. Avoid “and the kitchen sink” approaches for this reason. Always question: why would a potential audience consume and share this? And does this piece of content serve to accomplish my overall goal? For example, behind the scenes blogs seem seductive in that so many filmmakers do them, but few new audiences, outside of emerging filmmakers, care about the ins-and-outs of a production they know little about it. Carefully examine if this is the best use of your team’s time? And make sure all your bits of content are sticky and can be sourced back to your property.

Plan For Success

Yes, there are many projects that failed to employ a marketing strategy that just happened to turn into unforeseen wild successes, the popular radio drama Welcome to Nightvale being one such property. However, do not let this delude you into thinking the creators themselves we glad they lacked the foresight that would have allowed them to take full advantage of sudden popularity. Success without pre-planning often equates into lost opportunities: merchandise sales in particular. While it would be unwise to invest money into a full line of clothing and branded tea sets, it is prudent to have an idea of the kinds of products your audience would drop coin on in relation to your brand, and then source out suppliers, artists, and distributors and establish relationships with them so that you are never behind the eight ball in meeting demand with supply.

By doing the above leg work, you can develop a birds-eye view towards marketing your property that will keep you ready to seize opportunities and maximize audience potential. By having a solid marketing plan alongside the production of your project while targeting specific audiences with content that appeals to them, you are also demonstrating sound proof of concept to both yourself and potential partners.

Carrie Cutforth-Young is a storyteller, producer, and strategist as well as a passionate community builder in the transmedia and web series space. Her latest project, Spy Whores (pictured) is a campaign leading up to the award-winning Clutch’s next installment. She is the founder of several transmedia/web series community building initiatives including Transmedia 101, Transmedia Canada, and the Independent Web Series Creators of Canada. She is also a producer of the upcoming TOWebfest.


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